Say No To Dieting

The media promotes and reflects the current mainstream culture's standards for body shape, size and importance of beauty. The media reflect images of being ultra thin and relates this image to symbols of prestige, happiness, love and success for women. Repeated exposure to the thin ideal via the media can lead to the internalization of this ideal. It also renders these images achievable and real.

Out in the real world, people come in all shapes and sizes, and people are attracted to people of all shapes and sizes. But magazines and television have defined beauty so narrowly that it is unattainable by most people. This standard of beauty makes extreme thinness the only acceptable body type. The result of the media's constant reinforcement of this standard is a nation obsessed with dieting and weight loss at any cost. As a result, the lives and health of a large number of teenage and adolescent girls is suffering.

Most girls, when still young, like to play with Barbie dolls, which usually become their first role models. From the age of 3 years, most girls start thinking that only a perfect body shape can give them the success recognition, love, care and positive responses they crave. According to a survey done in America, 90 per cent of all girls between the ages of 3 to 11 have a Barbie doll, a role model with a figure that is unattainable in real life.

Studies have shown that about 68pc of a sample of undergraduate and graduate female students felt worse about their looks after reading women's magazines and watching TV commercials and programmes. Research shows that individuals exposed to slides of thin models consequently presented with lower self-evaluations, than subjects who had been exposed to average and over-size models. The results also showed that all subjects experienced the greatest pressure to be thin from the media, followed by peers and then family. In another study it was found that exposure to idealized images via magazines and TV lowered females' satisfaction with their own attractiveness. In addition, exposure to the thin ideal produced depression, shame, guilt, body dissatisfaction and stress. Now, many social scientists and health practitioners have found a direct relationship between media exposure and symptoms leading to eating disorders.

These kinds of obsessions and inferiority complexes are more common in females than males. According to the American Psychiatric Association: "Body-image dissatisfaction and eating disorders are more prevalent among females than males. This gender specificity is apparent in that over 90pc patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are women."

Many women suffer from body dissatisfaction, and assiduous dieting and the relentless pursuit of thinness is becoming our cultural norm too! Thinness has not only come to represent attractiveness, but also has come to symbolize success, self-control, higher socioeconomic status and a requirement for a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. As a result, girls end up starving themselves by practising unhealthy and hazardous dieting habits. These dieters seem to follow the "Thin Commandments." This is what Carolyn Costin (Clinical Director of the Eating Disorder Centre of California and the Monte Nido Treatment Centre) calls it. She presents her Thin Commandments like this:

1. If you aren't thin you aren't attractive.

2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.

3. You must buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner.

4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.

5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself.

6. Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.

7. What the scale says is the most important thing.

8. Losing weight is good\gaining weight is bad.

9. You can never be too thin.

10. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.

While weight loss is rarely permanent, the damage it can do to your body can be permanent. When you don't eat enough to maintain your body, your body begins to consume itself. Most people think they are losing fat when they do this. Yet, study after study shows that you destroy muscle, bone and even brain tissue when you diet.

The muscle affected most is your heart. So much so that the Framingham Study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, found that the risk of dying from heart disease is 70pc higher in those with fluctuating weights than in those whose weight remains stable, regardless of their initial weight, blood pressure, smoking habits, cholesterol level or level of physical activity.

High blood pressure is another side effect of the mental and physical stress of dieting. Nutritional stress can also result in electrolyte imbalance, that is excessively-low levels of potassium in the blood, which can lead to heart attacks.

Recent studies have found a direct link between osteoporosis and dieting. Osteoporosis is a deadly disease in which calcium is leached from the bones resulting in fragile and deteriorating bones. One study found that a single, five-month weight loss programme resulted in "significant bone loss." Usually thought of as a post-menopausal condition, we are now finding many young women, specially dancers and athletes are suffering from osteoporosis.

In addition, older women who have maintained a higher body fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis as well as many other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells retain oestrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in the bones. And for young women, if they drop below 15pc body fat, they lose menses and suffer from a host of oestrogen deficiency illnesses, including infertility.

The list of illnesses now associated with dieting is long and growing longer every day as new studies find our "cure" is killing us. The list includes: anxiety, depression, lethargy, lowered self-esteem, decreased attention span, weakness, high blood pressure, hair loss, gall-bladder disease, gall-stones, heart disease, ulcers, constipation, anaemia, dry skin, skin rashes, dizziness, reduced sex drive, menstrual irregularities, amenorrhoea, gout, infertility, kidney stones, numbness in the legs, weight gain, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, compulsive eating, reduced resistance to infection, lowered exercise tolerance....

One study found that even "successful" dieters, who have kept the weight off, have the chemical signature and many of the illnesses associated with anorexia nervosa even though they have average weight.

One of the biggest problems with weight-loss programmes is that they assume that weight is regulated in the stomach. Our metabolism is controlled, like most of our bodily functions, by the part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

Like a thermostat, our weight varies slightly with environmental factors such as temperature, quality and choices of food and exercise. Yet, this range is only about 10-15pc weight range. So a person's weight may fluctuate naturally by 10-20 pounds.

Weight loss attempts, which try to force the body to change, instead of resulting in a lower weight, actually reset the weight range higher in the body's attempt to compensate for starvation.

In the end, here are "10 Good Reasons Not to Diet" for the readers:

1. Diets don't work. 2. Dieting is hazardous to your health. 3. Dieting reduces self-esteem. 4. Diets reinforce body hatred. 5. Diets cause food/weight obsession. 6. Diets are a leading cause of eating disorders. 7. Diets perpetuate fatphobia. 8. Diets support an oppressive, multi-billion dollar industry.

9. Diets are a social control of women. 10. Dieting kills.

 

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Rhonda Simon 4 years ago

Thank you for this article. It's encouraging to find another person knows the truth.

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